Thursday, June 2, 2011

Golden Princess Review - Part Four - The Bad

The Bad

Embarking/Disembarking in Port: The fiasco in Vancouver, while not Princess’ fault, could have been handled better per our suggestions in part one of this review. Yet problems getting on and off the ship in each port were Princess' problem and should be addressed by the Security officers on the ship.

The ship was over an hour late getting to Juneau and Victoria. Of course, people panicked, thinking they were not going to make their excursions. In Juneau, a group of people began lining up on Deck Six over an hour before the ship was scheduled to arrive. When people walking by see a line, for some unknown reason they think they are going to miss something, so they had better get on that line! By the time the ship arrived late into port, the line was snaking through three decks and there was fighting going on between passengers about who was or wasn’t cutting the line. Security people were dispensed to try and hold the crowd, but even they appeared to be frazzled and started looking the other way when passengers started arguing with them.

Getting back on the ship was another problem. We’ve sailed on the three biggest ships at sea, RCCL’s Oasis and Allure of the Seas, and NCL’s Epic and never experienced long lines getting back on the ship. While there were many similarities between these ships (two doors open to get on and off the ship), NCL and RCCL have TWO x-ray machines at each location as well as two metal detectors, which allow passengers to embark quickly. This ship didn't use two x-ray machine until the last night in Victoria – resulting in huge lines to get back on the ship after a few hours in port.

Because the ship is only in port a few hours, passengers want to make the most of that time and many arrive back at the ship as close to the final boarding time as possible. In Juneau, it was dark and getting quite cold and the line we were on suddenly stopped dead for almost a half hour. (There was a second line at the rear of the ship that kept moving.)

What we later learned stopped the line was a member of the group we were traveling with. When they first got on the ship (after 3-1/2 hours on line) the Security officer who took the initial pictures for their cruise cards put the wife’s photo on her husband’s card. When they attempted to get back on the ship in Juneau, Security would not allow the husband on the ship – and apparently had no idea how to handle it other than stopping the entire line until they could figure out what to do. This couple was made to stand to the side- embarrassed- for almost an hour before they were taken to have new cards made. The situation was handled very poorly by Security, who denied the problem was theirs, further infuriating everyone.

There were no problems getting off the ship in Skagway and Ketchikan, but there were very long lines again in Ketchikan to get back on – over a half hour in line to get back on the ship. In Victoria, we had long lines to get off because - again – the ship was late getting into port. But it was handled a little better.

Putting two x-ray machines and two metal detectors at each embarkation door should avoid this.

Passenger Services: The biggest disappointment on the cruise. The line at passengers services started on embarkation day and never seemed to go away. On the Juneau night, I went to Customer Service on behalf of our client who had the picture i.d problem. This person I spoke to was actually shaking when I was speaking to him/her to complain about the line processes (we will not divulge the name because I actually felt sorry for this person but will refer to this person as "Shakey").

I was on line with a woman who was also having problems. This was her 29th cruise with Princess and third on the Golden and she was livid about the problems she was experiencing on the ship,saying she had never seen such poor service in all of her Princess cruises.

When I was speaking to “Shakey” about the problem with the card and the issues getting off the ship, Shaky agreed with me about the lines and said there was already a staff meeting about the Juneau line and the line was caused by the passengers who lined up before the ship was in port. My suggestion was that they should have told those passengers to wait elsewhere or in their cabins. Apparently that suggestion wasn’t such a stupid one, because when we were arriving late in Victoria, that is exactly the announcement that went over the loudspeakers.

While I was speaking to Shakey, our Agency Owner started talking to an officer about the problem our clients had with their card. Stated we had been talking to other passengers and many of them had never sailed Princess and were so annoyed they said they never would sail Princess again. The officer said if passengers can’t see the big picture and are that narrow minded, perhaps they shouldn’t sail Princess again. The next day, we learned this “officer” was the head of Passenger Services. As we walked away from him, we saw another passenger grab him to speak to him about problems they had getting back on the ship. We waited and spoke to them and they too had the same problem with pictures on their cards! And they were equally as outraged because he also "passed the buck" and didn't think it was a problem.

We opted to use EZ check to disembark. Princess has a wonderful program where for a fee of $20 per person, they will print your boarding passes and take your luggage to your airline for you. Once you put the bags out the last night, you do not need to touch them until you arrive at your home airport after your flights. We are Delta Amex card holders and when we use our card, we do not pay for luggage. I had asked Shakey about this to ensure we would not be charged a luggage fee if we used the service. Shakey told us if the airline didn’t charge, we wouldn’t be charged. When we received our final bill the last morning, there were two $25 luggage fee charges. I went to passenger services again and was told that Delta charged them so they had to charge me. I asked for a supervisor, a very curt woman who told me “Delta charged us, we charged you – take it up with Delta”

Of course, when talking to Delta, they said we should not have been charged and the only way to resolve it is stop dispute the bill on the credit card because Princess charged us, not Delta – which is what we’ll have to do.

When we arrived home, we sent an e-mail to Customer Relations and received a response back within 24 hours that they knew that Delta Amex holders are not to be charged the luggage fees, the ship is supposed to know that and were assured Princess will be refunding the two fees - within three billing cycles.

If you are a Delta card holder, bring a copy of the Amex policy with you, write it out on your EZ check application along with your credit card number and staple it to the form. Even though I had brought a copy of the policy, staff on the ship still had a problem but I am hoping that addressing it with the California offices ensured the information was relayed back to the ship.

Did the “bad” outweigh the good? Absolutely not. While it takes longer to detail problems, Alaska is such a fantastic cruise experience, there really is not much that can ruin a cruise.

Would we sail Princess again? Since this is not anything typical of our past Princess experiences – yes we sure would. But most of the passengers who traveled on our group would not.

If there were a repeat performance on another ship – then I’d have to re-think ever sailing Princess again.

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